For over more than two weeks, from 17 August to 2 September, the residents of the overcrowded neighbourhoods in the vicinity of the 12th-century Saladin citadel on Muqattam Hill east of Cairo were treated to the annual music fest held at the citadel.
This year’s edition of the Citadel Festival for Music and Singing marked the 25th annual event, and was celebrated with 33 concerts over 17 evenings by local and regional musicians and singers. Entry is free of charge.
The festival runs under the directorship of the Cairo Opera House at the citadel’s open-air al-Mahka (The Story-Telling) Theatre. The annual summer event was launched in 1990 by conductor and composer Sherif Mohie Eldin, and has along the years hosted regional and international musicians.
Mr Mohie Eldin’s idea was that the Opera House should reach out to the masses who can never afford a seat at the Opera. The festival has ever since been one of the musical events most popular with Cairenes, but especially with the locals who relish the evenings of fine music and singing as the breeze of Cairo’s summer evenings cools down the sweltering heat of the day.
Ines Abdel-Dayem, director of the Cairo Opera House, said that this year’s concerts constantly played to full houses.
Culture Minister Helmy al-Namnam participated in opening night, together with Antiquities Minister Khaled Anani, Social Solidarity Minister Ghada Wali, Minister of State for Immigration Nabila Makram, Dr Abdel-Dayem and a large number of State officials and members of the Cairo diplomatic corps.
Mr Namnam gave a word in which he said: “We stand here at one of the oldest and highest-altitude historical sites in Cairo; we have behind us 800 years of history and 25 years of music.” The Minister stressed that, even though the Cairo Opera House had its large audience of lovers, it was its duty to reach out to the masses who can ill-afford to attend its performances. He addressed the audience with: “Your large attendance tonight is a decoration we wear on our breasts. It makes us immensely proud, but it also puts us before the responsibility of offering you the finest in all arts.”
Mr Namnam has since holding office as Culture Minister spearheaded a movement jointly with the Cairo Opera House to hold affordable concerts and shows to young people and underprivileged Egyptians. Concerts have been held at universities and other venues and assemblies in various provinces in Egypt.
The festival honoured five figures who over the years strongly contributed to its success. These were Sherif Mohie Eldin, founder of the festival; Mustafa Nagy, former head of the Cairo Opera House; Trombone player Tareq al-Shami; violin (kaman) player Muhammad Ibrahim Nasr; and Fawzi Abdullah who for 15 years planned and put into effect the activities of the festival editions.
Music first and foremost
Opening night featured the iconic band Les Petit Chats which shone during the 1970s but disbanded in the 1980s. A number of its founding members re-formed the band some two years ago, and it has been met with resounding success. Even though Les Petit Chats never produced song or music of its own but performed the highest hit international songs, the band brought its own imprint and allure to the song and music, and succeeded in attracting loyal audiences to its singular performances. This year’s concert featured Sadeq Qellini, Sobhy Bedeir, Pino Faris, Wagdy Francis, and Ezzat Abu-Ouf.
Other concerts and shows featured stick dancing by Malawi Stick—stick dancing is a dance which men perform using sticks and which goes back to ancient Egypt, and Spanish folklore dancing by Mona Borkhart group. There were also performances by widely popular pop stars including among others Ali al-Haggar, Medhat Saleh, Khaled Selim, Amr Selim, Ahmed Rabie, Said al-Artiste, Ali al-Helbawi, Carmen Soliman and the Lebanese Marwa Nagy. Top Egyptian bands performed; these included Ayamna al-Helwa (Our Good Old Days), Eftekasat (Innovations) band, Emdan al-Nour (Pillars of Light), Riff Jazz band, Sudasi Sharara (Sharara Sixtet) and the folkloric/heritage music band Egyptian Mawlawiya. From the Opera House there was the Nile Symphony Orchestra conducted by Muhammad Saad Basha.
The grand finale featured Eman al-Bahr Darwish with whom the audience interacted with liveliness and spirit, as well as a performance on the marimba by Nesma Abdel-Aziz. Dr Abdel-Dayem, herself a renowned flautist, surprised everyone by accompanying Abdel-Aziz on the flute. Head of Cairo Opera House or not, it was evident Abdel-Dayem was first and foremost a passionate music woman.
4 September 2016